Looking for a different dining experience? Try Xiangbala Hotpot
By Victoria Bamber
As a former student, I have always prided myself on being a connoisseur of local take-aways, fast food eateries and ‘cheap and cheerful’ establishments; yet visiting Xiangbala Hotpot on Dalry Road put all previous Chinese food acquaintances to shame, for this was one of the most authentic and intriguing dining experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
Visiting a new restaurant is always a bit of a gamble, especially if it hasn’t been recommended or advertised, and it’s fair to say that Xiangbala Hotpot doesn’t look overly inviting from the outside. Little knowing what to expect we entered, and were immediately greeted by a friendly waitress who guided us to our seats and – sensing our confusion – explained how the menu worked in full.
Unlike conventional restaurants, Xiangbala Hotpot is a bit (a lot) different – because you, the customer, cook the food. The table is provided with a mini oven (complete with child lock for wandering hands), and you are then asked to fill out a menu, ticking boxes for any food that you wish to order. The food comes in sections such as ‘meat’, ‘seafood’ and ‘vegetables’ and you are allowed to tick as many or as few as you like, depending on preference. Being curious and perhaps a little overexcited our group managed to tick around 90% of the menu; it is then collected and the choices are returned swiftly, arranged neatly on novelty platters and plates. The table is then given a pan filled with broth, split into two segments, which heats up on the mini oven and is yours to fill with any or all of the ingredients selected from the menu. Ingenious!
XiangbalaHotpot gives customers a full two hours in which to cook, sample and create a culinary masterpiece (possibly). If you run out of an ingredient, it is replenished free of charge, and the broth topped up accordingly. But if you arrive expecting lemon chicken, crispy duck or pancakes, sadly you will be disappointed, because the bulk of food on the menu is authentically Chinese, and consists of mussels, squid, pak choi and…chicken feet. Not a prawn cracker in sight.
The food available, although experimental, (and often reminiscent of meals from ‘The Adams Family’), does include some less ‘unusual’ offerings: lettuce, beef, potato and mushrooms are also on the menu, although may not provide a full meal for those who are a little bit pickier. The great thing about splitting the pan into two sections, gives diners a choice of what they want to eat whilst separating it from food they want to avoid. Beware though, if you opt for the ‘spicy broth’ make sure you have a glass of water at the ready, it burnt for a full 5 minutes afterwards.
Yet it wasn’t only the food which provided entertainment throughout the evening. The ambiance of Xiangbala Hotpot was very appealing, and whilst the decor may not be suited to everyone’s tastes, it was certainly bright, cheerful and welcoming – especially so after wandering in on a rainy Wednesday evening. Being a restaurant that catered particularly for Edinburgh’s Chinese community, it was nice to feel so welcomed on our first visit. The atmosphere was laid back, friendly and we didn’t feel at all rushed considering how busy it was.
We had a great time at Xiang Bala Hot Pot. If you are new to the city, or are looking for somewhere to eat that is a bit different and unusual, or you like experimenting with food, this is certainly your place. The restaurant wouldn’t cater to everybody’s tastes though, so if you are on the fussy side, or aren’t a fan of seafood I’d stay clear. Coming in at a fixed price of £15 per person, the bill is reasonable for those who eat their fill and overall the evening was great fun; making the hot pot yourself is a nice touch and creates much entertainment and hilarity around the table…or it did for us anyway!
Xiangbala Hotpot (no website) 63 Dalry Road, Edinburgh, EH11 2BZ. Telephone – 0131 313 4408
Open 7 days 3pm – 11pm (last food orders 10pm)
Suitable for disabled? There is one small step into the restaurant, but space around the tables are tight. Staff happy to accommodate wheelchairs though and move tables. Bathrooms also on ground floor, but space is tight to get there.